Essays of Michael, seigneur de Montaigne in three books : with marginal notes and quotations and an account of the author's life : with a short character of the author and translator, by a person of honour
Montaigne, Michel de, 1533-1592., Halifax, George Savile, Marquis of, 1633-1695., Cotton, Charles, 1630-1687.


Of Smells.

IT has been reported of others, as well as of Alexander the Great, that their Sweat ex∣hal'd an Odoriferous Smell, occasion'd by some rare and extraordinary constitution, of which Plutarch, and others, have been inqui∣sitive into the cause. But the ordinary consti∣tution of Humane Bodies is quite otherwise, and their best and chiefest Excellency, is to be exempt from Smells: Nay, the sweetness even of the purest Breaths, has nothing in it of greater perfection, than to be without any of∣fensive Smell, like those of heathful Children: which made Plautus, say,

*Mulier tum bene olet, ubi nihil olet.
That Woman we a sweet one call,
Whose Body breathes no Scent at all.

And such as make use of these exotick Perfumes, are with good reason to be suspected of some Natural Imperfection, which they endeavour by these Odours to conceal, according to that of Mr. Johnson, which, without offence to Page  532 Monsieur de Montaigne, I will here presum to insert, it being at least as well said, as any of those he quotes out of the Ancient Poets,

*Still to be Neat,still to be Drest,
As you were going to a Feast,
Still to be Powder'd, still Perfum'd:
Lady, it is to be presum'd,
Though Arts hid causes are not found,
All is not sweet, all is not sound.

As may be judg'd by these following,

*Rides nos, Coracine, nil olente:
Malo quam bene olere, nil olere.
Because thou Coracinus still dost go
With Musk and Ambergrease perfumed so,
We under thy Contempt, forsooth, must fall▪
I'd rather than smell sweet, not smell at all;

And elsewhere,

*Posthume, non bene olet, qui bene semper olet.
He does not Naturally Smell well,
Who always of Perfumes does Smell.

I am nevertheless a strange lover of good Smells, and as much abominate the ill one▪ which also I reach at a greater distance; I think, than other Men:

*Namque sagacius unus odoror,
Polypus, angravis hirsutis cubet hircus in alis▪
Quam canis ace ubi lateat sus.
Page  533
For I can Smell a Putrid Polypus,
Or the Rank Arm-pits of a Red-hair'd Fuss,
As soon as best Nos'd Hound the stinking S••e,
Where the Wild Boar does in the Forest Lie.

Of Smells, the simple and natural seem to be most pleasing. Let the Ladies look to that, for 'tis chiefly their concern. In the wildest parts of Barbary, the Scythian Women, after Bathing, were wont to Powder and Crust their Faces, and whole Bodies, with a certain Odoriferous Drug, growing in their own Ter∣ritories; which being cleans'd off, when they came to have familiarity with Men, they were found Perfum'd and Sleek: 'Tis not to be be∣liev'd, how strangely all sorts of Odours cleave to me, and how apt my Skin is to imbibe them. He that complains of Nature, that she has not furnish'd Mankind with a Vehicle to convey Smells to the Nose, had no reason; for they will do it themselves; especially to me: My very Mustachio's perform that Office; for if I stroke them but with my Gloves, or Handkerchief, the Smell will not out a whole Day: They will Reproach me where I have been; the close, luscious, devouring and melt∣ing Kisses of Youthful Ardour would in my Wanton Age have left a Sweetness upon my Lips for several Hours after. And yet I have ever found my self very little subject to Epi∣demick Diseases, that are caught, either by conversing with the Sick, or bred by the con∣tagion of the Air; I have very well escap'd from those of my time, of which there has Page  534 been several Virlent sorts in our Cities and Armies. We Read of Socrates, that though he never departed from Athens, during the frequent Plagues that infested that City, he only was never Infected. Physicians might (I believe,) if they would extract greater Utility from Odours, than they do; for I have often observ'd, that they cause an alteration in me, and work upon my Spirits according to their several Vertues; which makes me approve of what is said, namely, that the use of Incense and Perfumes in Churches, so Ancient, and so universally receiv'd in all Nations, and Religi∣ons, was intended to chear us, and to ouse and purifie the Senses, the better to fit us for Contemplation. I could have been glad, the better to judge of it, to have tasted the Cu∣nary Art of those Cooks, who had so rare 〈◊〉 way of Seasoning Exotick Odours with the relish of Meats; As it was particularly ob∣serv'd in the Service of the King of Tuis, who in our Days Landed at Naples, to have an interview with Charles the Emperour, where his Dishes were farc'd with Odoiferous Drugs, to that Degree of Expence, that the Cookery of one Peacock, and two Pheasants, amount∣ed to a Hundred Duckets, to dress them af∣ter their Fashion. And when the Carve came to break them up, not only the Dining room, but all the Appartments of his Palace, and the adjoining Streets were fill'd with an Aromatick Vapour, which did not presently vanish. My chiefest care in chusing my Lodgings, is always to avoid a thick and Page  535 stinking▪ Air and those Beautiful Cities of Venice and Paris, have very much lessen'd the Kindness I had for them, the one by the of∣fensive Smell of her Marshes, and the other of her Dirt.